Most musicians agree that releasing an album is a bit like launching your child into the world; you shape and mould them to be the best that they can, pour your heart and soul into tending to them and then send them on their way to essentially be evaluated by all and sundry.
Ann Scott has released three musical babies into the wild so far, but her first actual child is due early next year, as her growing bump signifies when we meet in a city centre café on a sunny autumn morning. Before she becomes a mother, however, there is the business of delivering her fourth album Venus to the Sky.
“I was considering releasing it next year, but I just thought that I’d be in a different mindset,” she explains, sipping her coffee. “It felt ready now. I’ve been working on it a long time – I started the basic tracks in 2011 – and also, I think sometimes if you don’t set yourself deadlines, you could go on scribbling for years and years. It wasn’t like I was rushed, but yeah,” she grins as she points to her bump, “I suppose in the end, this did hurry me along.”
Scott is no stranger to the Irish music scene. Her debut album Poor Horse (2004) and its follow-up We're Smiling (2006) established her as a writer of quirky indie songs that took unexpected melodic twists, delivered in her breathy, languid vocal style. She initially came to prominence amid the scene that spawned acts such as Mark Geary, The Frames and Gemma Hayes, and although she has perhaps not been as commercially prolific as those acts – despite clocking up nominations for Best Female Artist at the Meteor Awards in 2005 and 2007 – her quiet success has kept her name in good stead, even during the quieter periods of her career. Speaking of which, it's been a good three years since Flo, her last album . . .
“That’s good going for me,” she protests good naturedly. “I know a lot of really busy artists would release every year, but as much as I do write a lot, I write slowly. By the time I’ve started a song, I mightn’t finish it for a year – or I might start five songs in a month, finish three and discard one . . . they’re like crops. Some of them go bad, so it’s about knowing when to harvest them, really.”
Although her albums may have lengthy gestation periods, there is an audible sense of songcraft in each one and Venus to the Sky is no exception. A concoction of dreamy vocals, groovy clatters and (as heard on album standout All About Love) a dark PJ Harvey-esque romanticism, it's an impressively cohesive record that strikes a balance between oddball indie and slouchy rock grooves, and sees old foils Gemma Hayes, Karl Odlum, Dave Hingerty and Welsh musician Katell Keineg lend a hand. Yet as accomplished as her sound has come to be over the years, music was not always on Scott's wishlist of careers.
"I think I tried to write a book when I was very young, but it was very similar to Black Beauty," she laughs, recalling her initial creative endeavours. "My brother was the musician, really; he was into heavy metal and I used to play with his guitar when he wasn't around. It's quite a tactile thing, to play an instrument, isn't it? It's very different to writing. Even if you hit a floor tom, or something, it's very gratifying to just touch something, and for it to make a sound. I remember some friend had left a violin in the house at another time, and I got a hairbrush and just strummed the hell out of it. I destroyed the violin with the hairbrush and tried to record it on a four-track, just going 'This is great! This is the most fun you could have!' That sowed the seed, definitely."
Nevertheless, music wasn't seen as a viable career until a year spent in France during college, where she was studying journalism. Taking those "first steps up to the mic" in Paris helped to mold her style and inspire confidence in herself, she explains – and although she is often lumped in with the 'singer-songwriter' scene and occasionally plays acoustic guitar, 'folk singer' was not a label that she ever aspired to.
“I don’t know if I’m aware of what people think of me. I know when I do a gig, thousands and thousands of people don’t show up,” she laughs, shrugging. “The album I did prior to this one was very introspective; there was a lot of meditative, hearty emotional stuff, and I spent a lot of time doing it on my own with a lot of arrangements and songs, and it was lonely. I kind of felt that I wanted to have more fun with this one; collaborate more. You can sometimes react against yourself, more than anything – you get sick of yourself and want to change. That’s what happened this time, I think. This time, I wanted it to be maybe less heart, more pulse. I wanted it to be simpler, in a way, and with a bite more adrenaline to it.”
It may be more musically upbeat, but does she consider the songs to be lyrically in tune with the music? “It’s possible, yeah. Sometimes, I’ll say that they might be slightly more positive, and then I’ll say ‘Oh no, well that song’s about . . . death’,” she says, laughing. “But they’re moderately more positive – some of them are definitely trying to say ‘Life is great’. I want to really enjoy playing some of these songs, so the lyrics are a bit lighter.”
Scott spent some time writing and demoing at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerig, Co Monaghan – a creative retreat for musicians, writers, poets, playwrights, painters and dancers alike – before decamping to Steve Albini's Electric Audio studio in Chicago to record vocals last year with producer and Frames guitarist Rob Bochnik. Removing herself from the mundanity of life in Dublin helped to sustain her creative buzz, she says.
“For me, what really helps is removing myself from the laundry, the washing up, the emails,” she smiles. “I think going anywhere really does, because you’re seeing so many new people and seeing snippets of people’s lives that are so different to yours.
“One of the highlights – and this is pretty bad – but I was walking to the shop in Chicago and this guy says to me ‘What’s up, bitch?’. I was pretty shocked, but at the same time, kind of thrilled. It felt like I was in a soap, or something, even though he probably didn’t intend it very nicely,” she chuckles. “You wouldn’t get that in Whelan’s, put it that way.”
And while much of her time over the next six months will be spent on other life-changing project, Scott is still looking to the future in terms of her music. There are plans to release the album in the UK and tour it both here, there and in the US – but she’s also perfectly happy to follow its lead, too.
“Everything can happen with an album and nothing can happen with an album; again, it’s one of those things like sending your child off to school and saying ‘Now, try to become a doctor or a lawyer’, and they come back and they’re a musician.There’s a lottery element to it all, I think. You can focus on whether you’re going to tour the album heavily or pitch it around a lot, but pitching it around is not something I’m very good at. I’ll probably just let it do its thing. See where the prevailing wind takes it.”
Ann Scott releases Venus to the Sky and plays The Grand Social, Dublin, on October 11th